Poulter-Chamblee feud added high-octane fuel to The Players

Ian Poulter-PGA Tour-The Players Michael Madrid/USA TODAY Sports

Poulter-Chamblee feud added high-octane fuel to The Players

PGA Tour

Poulter-Chamblee feud added high-octane fuel to The Players

Parting thoughts from The Players:

Forget about the Hatfields and McCoys. Golf has the Poulters and the Chamblees, each side digging in deep after Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee questioned, ahem, Poulter’s fortitude down the stretch of The Players on Sunday evening on site on the set. (Had they a chance to do it all again, perhaps the founders of Twitter would have more aptly named the app “Kerosene.”)

Poulter, who got into The Players only after fellow player Brian Gay had uncovered a points discrepancy as both players chased a card through medical extensions, had a terrific tournament, tying for second in a deep, deep field (48 of the world’s top 50 competed). The last thing he wanted to hear coming off four grueling days on that track is how he failed to play aggressively down the stretch on a golf course where disaster lurks around every corner on the way home.

Everyone has opinions, and the unofficial Gallup poll seems to tilt toward Poulter’s side in this riff against Chamblee. But could it be that both parties were right (at least partially so, in Chamblee’s case) on this one?

First things first: Chamblee’s comments need be heard in full context. One has to wonder if Poulter heard Chamblee’s full take, and didn’t just hear about this third-party. Chamblee’s take: Poulter’s seemingly conservative play on the 16th and 17th holes was not the stuff that makes one a lifetime hero at the 19th hole – the way, say, crazy-good finishes by Craig Perks (2002) and Rickie Fowler (6 under, last six holes) will live on in tournament lore. He was absolutely right about that.

Ian Poulter-The Players-PGA Tour

Ian Poulter takes a drop in the rough on 18 during the final round of The Players. (Michael Madrid/USA TODAY Sports)

Chamblee gets paid (quite handsomely) to offer his opinion on what he sees, and he is both an astute observer and dedicated student of the game. Clearly, he thought Poulter may have had an opening to increase pressure on a 21-year-old leader who one hole behind him and chose not to take it on. He voiced those thoughts.

Of course, the rich history of the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass if filled with those who did go for all and magnificently crashed. Len Mattiace (who made 8 at 17 in 1998) and Sean O’Hair (who made quad at 17 in 2007 as he chased Phil Mickelson) had chances to win and went for everything, each tumbling hard down the Sunday leaderboard. (O’Hair’s gaffe moved him from second to 11th, a difference of $747,000).

Only Poulter really knows what shots he was trying to pull off (incidentally, the brave play from the trees for tap-in bogey at 18 truly was one for the ages). Poulter had 236 yards in at the par-5 16th, and would need to hit 4-iron from a downhill, iffy lie in the rough and run the shot through a small gap to the green. He placed the probability of pulling off such as shot as “1 in 20,” and knew there were other ways to make birdie. So he laid up, then followed by hitting a poor wedge by his standards that settled nearly 30 feet left of the hole.

But one also must factor in this: A month ago, after he came up one shot shy of where he needed to be at RBC Heritage and missed the cut at the Texas Open, Poulter was convinced he’d lost his Tour card. At 41, a father of four, he would no control of his schedule for the rest of the 2016-17 season, getting into second-tier events when he can, sometimes at the 11th hour.

A par-par-bogey finish at the Stadium Sunday was good enough to tie for second. Folks point to the stack of money Poulter earned ($924,000), but far more important were the Tour card he secured for 2017-18, the FedEx Cup points (he moved from 136th to 58th) and World Ranking points (he moved from 197th to 80th). At No. 80, he can more realistically set his sights on getting back into the top 50 again, and from there he can play anywhere he pleases. Not everyone needs a trophy to win.

Everybody views life differently from the kaleidoscope. Frankly, it would be scary if we didn’t. If Chamblee’s assigned mission is to spark a conversation, he certainly did that. As far as this writer is concerned, they both can take a bow.

What’s next for Kim?

With all due respect to Si Woo Kim, who showed himself to be tremendously gritty over the weekend upon the TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium Course (68-69) and only grew in confidence once he took the lead on Sunday, we’re going to pump the brakes a bit before elevating him into superstar status, as some want to do.

What Kim has accomplished at the age of 21 makes for a mightily impressive roll call: youngest winner of The Players by nearly two years; first player from Asia to win multiple PGA Tour events by 22; and youngest Q-School grad (17).

In the last 25 years, only three other players have won more than once before their 22nd birthday, and their names you know well: Woods. Garcia. McIlroy.

Nonetheless, did Kim win at Players because he really was the best player in a loaded field, or because he had the scrambling weekend of his life? On Saturday and Sunday, he got up and down 16 of 17 times for par, including a perfect 10-of-10 on Sunday, getting through a tough day as the only player without a bogey on his card.

Kim flew home to Dallas and promptly withdrew from the AT&T Byron Nelson, citing a bad back. When he’s healthy, he swings it well (Kim’s caddie, Mark Carens, said, “Sometimes Sean [Foley, Kim’s instructor] stands on the range and says, ‘What do I say to him?’) Kim has fought through back and wrist issues this season, and frankly, he arrived to The Players with a record (17 starts, one top 10, seven missed cuts, four WDs, 132nd in FedEx Cup points) that was dismal.

His play on the weekend was something special, but he needs time to show he’s capable of more before we know what players with whom to group him. A 21-year-old with a bad back? That’s scary. Between trying to regain a card on the Web.com in 2015 and competing on the PGA Tour in 2016, Kim made 64 starts. Hopefully his five-year exemption, as well as some seasoned tutelage from Foley, will help him pace himself a little better.

“It’s really tough to be fresh playing so much,” Foley said.

But get used to the name. Kim now is in all the 2017 majors, and is likely going to be part of Nick Price’s International squad at the Presidents Cup this fall. Take care of that back, kid.

Rating the new-look Players

Hats off to the PGA Tour for so many great improvements at this year’s Players. The new range looked great. The open look between Nos. 6 and 7 was cool for spectators. And tournament officials tried to inject more back-nine drama in with a revamped 12th hole, a “nothing” hole previously, shortened to 302 yards so that players would give it a go.

What was the verdict? The hole needs work. In its current form, it simply is too penal for players to reach for the driver (in some cases, 3-wood) knowing there will be little reward unless a player pulls off the perfect shot. With firm conditions and the absence of rough along the left side to hold up a shot, any ball moving just slightly right to left toward the center and left portion of the green was likely to end up in the water.

Ian Poulter-No. 12-The Players-PGA Tour

Ian Poulter on 12 during the final round of The Players Championship golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass (Peter Casey/USA TODAY Sports)

What’s a player’s logical reaction to that? Three-iron, wedge. Yawn. The overall concept is fine, and potentially very exciting; the hole just needs some tweaking. Last week, there were only two eagles (and three double-bogeys).

“I think 12 is a fun hole,” Masters champion Sergio Garcia said on Sunday. “If they don’t want to ‘level’ up, a little bit, that left side (then) it needs a couple of yards of semi-rough. I hit a great drive (Sunday), my ball landed probably 3-4 yards right of the pin with a cut, finished 2 yards left of it. If it goes two more yards further left, it probably goes in the water. And you’re hitting a great shot.

“That’s probably something they can tweak a little bit. It’s the first year. They’re probably waiting to see how everything reacted and stuff. But it’s a fun option.”

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